Bruce Wayne Harkey

This is one of those cases in which you just have to shake your head about. The shocking part about this crime is not the motive.  We see crimes every day that revolve around greed and anger which is what is at the core of this case.  And of course we see stupid criminal acts all the time too.  I mean come on, besides the fact that there used to be a show called "America's Dumbest Criminals" if you are into true crime you sometimes just have to ask yourself "what were they thinking." But, for me, this one almost takes the cake.  One of the victims, the main target was 85 year old Bonnie Harkey.  She was already in the early stages of dementia and just a few months before her murder she was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm.  This means she had what is considered to be a "bulge" in the main artery of not just her heart, but of her body.  Now, sometimes, when caught aneurysms can be fixed but that was not advised in Bonnie's case.  Basically at any moment of any day that aneurysm could burst and she would die almost instantly.  Now, of course no one knows when that would have been.  It could have been the next day, next week, next year... who knows.  But, realistically you have an 85 year old woman with this issue who is already at this point needing around the clock care, the odds of her living very many more years is pretty slim.  

The Harkey family was very well known in Texas.  Well at least in Harkeyville where the town was obviously named for them. Harkeyville is about 200 miles southeast of Dallas and today apparently there is not a whole lot there.  But back in it's hey day it was pretty booming!  In the mid 1800's two brothers came across the area while helping a group of people cross the area.  They went back to Arkansas and grabbed their parents and remaining siblings and soon Harkeyville Texas was born.  The Harkeyville had everything from a racetrack to factories.  People were flocking to events in Harkeyville.  They stayed pretty active throughout the years but things were already getting rough and then the Depression hit. Things got even worse in Harkeyville and then in 1950 when major roads were built that essentially eliminated travel through the town the economy really plummeted.   However, Olga Bryan Harkey, a descendant of the original settlers began planting and cultivating pecan trees.  He had grown a very successful business with several hundred acres and at least three orchards of pecans.  Olga himself had kind of started it as a hobby but only child, a son, Riley saw it as a lifestyle.  By the late 1950's Olga and his wife had moved from the land that the orchards stood and moved to nearby San Saba, just a few miles down the road, leaving the orchards to be care for by Riley.  At the time Riley was married with two young sons and he had done so much with the orchards it was common knowledge this would be their legacy.  Little did people know that decades later they would be famous for something else.  

Olga still worked in the orchards pretty regularly himself and would often take his grandsons, especially his youngest, Bruce out into the fields with him. Everyone, including Bruce himself, thought this land would eventually go to him so it was important he knew how to care for things.

Then in 1963 things changed.  Bruce was 11 and his older brother John was 16 when his mother left them and his father and moved to Nevada.  It is not really hard to see why.  Apparently Riley was a pretty rigid man and it is unlikely in the time era she would have gotten much in a divorce considering how prestigious the family was in the area, but then again this is speculation on my part.  Although there was brief periods in which I found her slightly mentioned in my research I am unsure just how much contact she had with her children, especially her oldest John after she left.  At any rate apparently the door had barely shut when she left and Riley had met Bonnie Compton.  She was a divorced single mother working at as a telephone operator.  She had a 14 year old daughter named Connie.  The ink was barely dry on Riley's divorce and he and Bonnie were married and things changed on the Harkey homestead.

Although no one can say, or at least with any reliability, why but the blended family thing was not going so well.  Bruce would claim decades later that Bonnie had been mean to him and his brother from the start and has been quoted as saying some things Bonnie supposedly said including within a few years giving Riley an ultimatum ... him or her.  According to those still living who knew Bonnie they do not seem to believe this as according to them she tried everything to make things work and was loving to everyone but things reached a breaking point.  I personally cannot say which side I believe, and maybe both sides are a little right.  We know quite often when two people tell a story somewhere in the middle lies the truth.  To add to this you have the perceptions of an angry man who at this time had his world turned upside down.  And many have proclaimed that Riley had raised his children to believe that because they were Harkey's they were better than other people.  So maybe it was a little of both.  Maybe Bonnie tried and Bruce, going through all that he had in a short period of time, was not having any of it, not to mention it was said Riley rarely disciplined his children and maybe Bonnie did finally break.  At any rate we know that for the next couple of years Bruce lived with his mother in Nevada. By the time he started high school his brother John had gone off to college and his step-sister Connie was soon on her way, meaning Bonnie and Riley were alone at the orchard. So, whether it was that, or the relationship between Bruce and Bonnie, when Bruce returned to Texas to go to high school he moved in with his grandparents. By this time Harkeyville and San Saba were basically considered to be one and the same. 

Just before his senior year Bruce's girlfriend became pregnant and they decided to marry.  The baby, a little boy they named Eric, was born premature in April of 1970 and was not well.  The story goes that he had some sort of gastric issues and in essence was not to be fed and then laid down immediately.  Bonnie and Riley offered for Bruce and his wife to move in with them so they could help with the baby.  When Eric was 14 days old Bonnie was caring for him and he stopped breathing. Bonnie rushed him to the hospital but nothing could be done. Most do not believe that Bonnie did anything wrong and I am uncertain that they could ever truly determine what exactly happened but it did not matter to Bruce.  This is  grudge that apparently to this day Bruce held against Bonnie. Whether this was the catapult that made Bruce's life spiral even more out of control is anyone's guess.  But soon after the death of their child Bruce and his wife moved as Bruce went to college but their marriage soon fell apart.  

For the next what it appears 16-17 years it appears that Bruce jumped not just around the country but from job to job and marriage to marriage.  By 1978 he was working as a police officer in Reno Nevada (presumably near his mother but I cannot confirm this).  In 1987 he was back near his hometown working as an investigator for the Attorney General of Texas looking into medicaid fraud and nursing home abuse, by 1994 he was working as a nursing home administrator. By the time he had returned to Texas he was married to his 7th wife.  He married his 8th in 1996.

In 1991 Riley had bought a third orchard and apparently had drawn up what he thought was a good will.  People in town said he talked often about how he had taken care of his affairs with this.  With the three orchards, each of his and Bonnie's children would each receive one upon their deaths and he had made sure that Bonnie had what was called a life estate.  This meant that as she was allowed to live on the property and in essence reap the benefits of the business until the time of her death if he were to die first.  Upon her death then the land would go to the children.  He also apparently set it up that for instance if Bonnie's daughter, Connie died before he and Bonnie that her orchard would go to her adopted son Carl Pressley.  

Connie had adopted Carl in 1984 when he was 8 months old and by all accounts Bonnie doted on him.  But, Carl was trouble.  Apparently at some point during his teenage years Connie could no longer handle him and he lived with Bonnie for some time.  Bonnie babied Carl... whatever Carl wanted, Carl got.  For example, Bonnie would buy Carl a vehicle, he would wreck it and Bonnie would buy him a new one.  Many felt that Carl was bleeding Bonnie dry.  Carl also had his own legal and drug problems throughout the years.  It was said that Carl had always tried to get Bruce to accept him as his nephew but that had not really ever happened.

In July 1997 Riley Harkey died after suffering from bone cancer. I did a search and found an entry on Findagrave.com that apparently reprinted Riley's obituary and I was a bit surprised.  It seems that while Bonnie of course was listed the only other survivors listed were Bruce and John.  I was surprised that Connie was not listed at all.  I find this interesting because this omission, whether it was it was in the original obituary or just here in the reprint, says a lot to me.  While I mentioned before that by all accounts Riley was a rather rigid man who, like many of the men of that time, were the ones in charge when it came to their marriages and women were not quite property but nearly close to it, the fact that people mentioned how he talked of his will and including Connie seemed to make one think he had at the very least mellowed but cared for Connie.  

As I said earlier in 1996 Bruce was back in Texas and married his 8th wife.  She was a 20 year old name Kami (Bruce was 44). According to Kami, for the first two years he was verbally abusive but after their daughter was born in 1998 he became physical and she would divorce him four years later around 2002. Kami says that Bruce held a lot of anger, apparently first at his father, but always held a grudge against Bonnie.  Of course there was the issue involving the death of his son and the feelings that went back to childhood, but it sounds as if it was not until his father's death that he was informed of how the will was set up. Most people say that Bruce always seemed to be waiting for his father to do as his grandfather did.... leave the orchard early and turn over operations to at least Bruce, but John also.  Riley had no intention of doing that despite the fact that Bruce apparently brought it up a few times to him.  Then when Riley died Bruce learned he still would not get his portion of the estate, which by this time was HIGHLY significant, at least financially.  As time went on I believe people were uncertain if Bruce wanted the orchards so he could continue working them or he just wanted to liquidate it all for the financial gain. Kami would claim that even before Riley's death Bruce would say that Riley and Bonnie just needed to die so he could get his inheritance.

Then things really took a turn for Bruce after Kami left him with their daughter. Apparently Bruce was still working at the nursing home and he had made some comments that alerted his boss and a co-worker that prompted them to call the police.  Bruce was apparently looking to have Kami killed.  Kami would claim years later that two Texas Rangers came to her house one day and informed her of the plot.  Bruce was put under surveillance at that time and apparently it is a good thing that he was.  When they overheard Bruce talking to a maintenance worker about wanting a gun silencer and his plans not only on how to kill Kami but dispose of her body they moved in.  When they arrested him they found a silencer, a gun and several rounds of ammo in his car.  Now I want to be clear in this part that while no, I never heard anything about Bruce being into hunting, this was Texas so the possession of a gun was not all that unusual.  I am in no way making excuses for him... just saying!  At any rate Bruce to a plea to a lesser charge of possession of an unregistered silencer and received 5 years in prison.  Upon his release in December of 2007 he was put in a half way house but part of his probation required that he had housing.  He asked Bonnie if he could move in with her.  After thinking it over and even discussing it with her minister she agreed.  Bruce, and his new girlfriend (although she was apparently a previous and later current wife of his) moved into some rooms upstairs in the home making it almost like an apartment of theirs.

By 2009 Bonnie was starting to show some signs of dementia and her daughter Connie was apparently worried.  Connie petitioned the courts and was granted guardianship over her mother.  Bruce and John were not happy about this and attempted to challenge this in court, to which they failed. No one claims that the boys were worried that Connie would not properly care for her mother but more than likely was more worried how their inheritance would be spent.  As far as her dementia went over the next few years it seems there were several questionable issues but then there were time where she seemed as sharp as a tack.  Apparently Bruce and his girlfriend did not stay too long in the home and moved out but supposedly during this time Bruce seemed to be a little more civil with Connie's son, Carl.

Then in March of 2011 at the age of 62, Connie died from pneumonia.  It did not take long for John and Bruce to move in on Carl to gain control of what now was going to be his inheritance.  However, after Connie's death a lawyer friend of Bonnie's spoke to a colleague and once again the court was petitioned. Attorney Darrel Spinks was appointed the guardian of Bonnie's estate while her long tie friend Betty Sue was appointed the guardian of her "person." Basically it was Spinks' job to keep track of Bonnie's financial affairs while Betty took care of her personal care.  In May of 2011, just after Connie had died John and Bruce apparently made a deal with Carl to buy the orchard that would go to him after Bonnie's death. Carl, who no one seems to have ever thought of as a bright person, apparently agreed for a measly $75,000 for an orchard that was worth nearly half a million.  And the kicker was that neither John or Bruce had that kind of money to give him at the time so he was still going to have to wait until Bonnie died to get his money, although he apparently signed the papers.  They have him 10% at that time ($7,500). For someone heavily in to drugs at the time it probably seemed like a fortune.  If they had not already planned to screw Carl out of his inheritance what they did next, or at least tried was .... and I cannot even come up with a word for it.  At any rate, the actor Tommy Lee Jones was from the area and actually owned land that was connected to the Harkey land.  Apparently Jones was often trying to expand his land that was full of pastures for the many horses that he had and John and Bruce approached him.  Jones had agreed to buy the orchard that they had just bought off of Carl for basically $7,500 (despite what the deal said) for $541,822.50.  Yes, that number is correct.  Apparently however, thankfully before that deal could go through Spinks was now in charge and he had to approve all transactions since he was the guardian of Bonnie's estate and he refused to sign off on it saying that it was not in Bonnie's best interest at the time.  It is pretty well known that this infuriated Bruce.  I should be clear in saying although not much is said about John, and you will learn later why, it is highly doubtful that he was any less happy about any of the situation.  Apparently it seems though that when he went to college he simply remained in Fort Worth and little could be found beyond the fact he was married and started a family.  He apparently did not have the drama connected to his life or if he did he was able to hide it better than his brother.

By 2012 Bruce was over waiting for Bonnie to die it seems.  Everyone who knew him, knew his feelings towards her and his desire for her to die so he could get his inheritance, including Bonnie's lawyer.  It was said that at least at this point Bonnie even feared him.  Bruce was nearly broke.  His felony conviction had made it hard for him to maintain or even get a job and he was about $100,000 behind in child support (the only child I could determine for sure was the daughter he had with Kami but there may have been more considering all the wives), and then he had his new wife and apparently her family he felt the need or wanted to support adequately.  

By the time March of 2012 came Bonnie's health had deteriorated to the point that she needed 24 hour care.  However, that did not prevent her from still doing many things like attending church.  She now had a caregiver, a woman by the name of Karen Johnson. On the morning of March 25 Karen had taken Bonnie to church just as she did every Sunday.  It is unclear if Karen's 11 year old son was with them at that time, but it would seem so.  After church they all returned to Bonnie's home and Karen's son apparently went into a room and began playing video games.  At some point later he had come out and found his mother laying dead near the front door and Bonnie no where to be found.  He called 911.  

Police arrived to find Karen Johnson dead from what appeared to be a strangulation.  Her son said he had not heard any commotion at all.  It was first believed that Bonnie must have wandered off somehow and people began to worry.  There were a lot of dangers out in the orchards, including it seems creeks and ditches.  The 300 acres of the pecan orchards were scoured but Bonnie was no where to be found.  Finally the police brought in the dogs and they felt certain that Bonnie had left in a vehicle... but where... and with who? A few hours into the investigation the lead detective received a phone call from a woman.  She informed him that while she was not certain where Bonnie Harkey was, she was almost completely sure that Bonnie's grandson, Carl Pressley and his girlfriend Lillian King were involved.  The following morning Carl and Lillian were found (reports are sketchy but they may have actually turned themselves in) and almost immediately they began showing not just extreme remorse but told their story to the officers and Carl took them to Bonnie's body.

According to Carl, the week prior to March 25th he was approached by Bruce Harkey, his step-uncle.  It was no secret to anyone, especially Carl how Bruce felt about Bonnie. Bruce told him that he had approached someone else about killing both Bonnie and her lawyer, Darrel Spinks but that the "hit man" wanted too much money, so he was coming to Carl, who remember still thinks he is going to get several thousand dollars from the Harkey brothers anyway when Bonnie dies, although I have my doubts as to if that would have happened.  But again, according to Carl, Bruce said the murder had to be done that weekend as he was going to be out of town.  Apparently Spinks was no longer on the list but Bonnie remained and the fact that Karen Johnson, her caretaker, was murdered makes it seem she was just a casualty of circumstance.  Carl said Bruce offered him $500 but he knew his uncle did not have it and agreed to $450 that would be put in his account on the Monday after the murders.  Bruce also agreed to give him $55,000 after.  Was this an extra to the more than $65,000 the Harkey's still owed him or was he already cutting him out of another $10,000 that he was owed?  Who knows.  

So on the morning of March 25th, while Bonnie and Karen were at church Carl had his girlfriend, Lillian King, drop him off at Bonnie's home where he says he broke into a basement window and waited (smoking meth) until they returned. Once they were home he apparently waited for them to be settled a bit and he messaged Lillian to come and ring the doorbell.  As Karen went to answer the door, Carl came up behind her and strangled her, leaving her body in the doorway.  He then went to his grandmother's room and sat on the bed with her on the premises that he was praying with her.  He apparently tried to smother Bonnie there but was unsuccessful. Bonnie began to yell for Lillian to help her but Carl calmed her down and convinced her he was not trying to kill her.  They then decided to convince her to take a ride with them.  They then took her to a campground some 200 miles away and while there Carl believed he had successfully drowned his grandmother.  He then dug a shallow grave, placed her in it and covered it with leaves.  According to investigators the story told by both Carl and Lillian were consistent and they both appeared to be extremely remorseful.  Carl then took investigators to where he buried Bonnie.  A coroner would later believe while conducting her autopsy that Bonnie was still alive when placed in the grave.

So now investigators started looking hard at Bruce Harkey.  Bruce was not necessarily hiding though.  In fact, just after he learned they were looking for him, he called investigators himself.  He insisted he was not involved and made sure they realized that he was out of town that weekend visiting her brother in Fort Worth.  His alibi did check out, although of course that did not mean that what Carl had told them was not true.  It seems everyone in town knew that Bruce Harkey was out of town that weekend.  People had found it strange that it seemed he told everyone he met the week leading up to the murder how he was going to be gone that coming weekend.  It was not just those he may have normally had contact with but even simple acquaintances and people in public. Many of those he told thought it was strange even at the time and found it stranger after Bonnie was killed.  Bruce was quickly arrested but he did not seem worried.  He repeatedly told people he was innocent and that he would have never asked "Forrest Gump"(a name he called Carl) to carry this out.  The only statement he made that did make sense referred to asking people why he would do it when apparently it was as if Bonnie had one foot in the grave already.  This was very true, Bonnie likely did not have much longer, although no one had a crystal ball. But, with all the evidence they had it seems that Bruce just that dumb.

People were left to wonder if Bruce's brother, John, was also involved in the plot, or at least knew about it.  Apparently that was never determined and John died of a heart attack just three months after the murders so obviously he was never charged.  Many speculate that while he may not have always been physically around Harkeyville like Bruce, that it is unlikely that he did not at least know of the plan.  

In April of 2014 Bruce Harkey was found guilty of capital murder.  It took the jury one hour to deliberate.  It is said that Bruce seemed stunned at the verdict. He received a mandatory sentence of life without parole.  The following month both Carl Pressley and Lillian King pleaded guilty to their roles.  They had already testified against Bruce in his trial.  Carl Pressley also received a sentence of life without parole while Lillian received a sentence of 45 years. Lillian's first chance at parole is in September of 2034 but the website says her projected parole is not until March of 2057. I can only assume that the latter date is when she will have served her entire sentence if a parole board does not grant her release sooner.

So, what ended up happening to the Harkey empire?  It seems that Carl's wife (who he had never divorced) that he had children with are, or at some time were living in the Harkey home.  It was said that the orchard is no longer cared for and had deteriorated.  We know that Bruce had at least one child but I am unsure if John had children of his own.  Presumably those heirs own the land but apparently have done nothing with it, it seems.  It would be sad in any circumstance to see generations of work and prosper go down the drain but what is even more sad is that this one did not have to.  People made choices out of greed and lost everything, even their lives.  


Comments

  1. To update this story .Carl Pressley had attempted to strangle his wife on a river bank at the farm.When their son was 5 months old she left him.To divorce him would give him visitation rights to both children .She refused to do that .Carl Pressley got 6 month probation only from this .Through the next few years Bonnie Harkey would continue to see the children .The First Baptist church confirmed they were the love of her life .Carl had moved away with Lille King so the children and mother would go to the farm on weekend so children could see and be with grand ma .Caregiver there and all felt safe .On the weekend this happened those children were due to go out there .Instead talked with grand ma on the phone and told her had to go get their other grand pa .He had been in the hospital .Bonnie Harkeys will left every thing she owned to these small children .It was put into a trust until they are 30 years old.Therefore giving the trustee and attorney full power to maintain buy sell are trade until age 30..She had told the little grand daughter who was 8 at the time some day she would live in that house .All thought that was the dementia Bonnie loved reading to them playing dress up and tea parties . Both children had came ot live at the farm after being born bonnie and sit up with colic rocked and cared for them as babies .The little boy was 5 months old when the mother of the children left .To this day she feels if only she had been there maybe she could have taken him down .Done something to save bonnie .The children are in weekly counselling still .They dont understand why this man they dont remember ever meeting would do this and supposed to be their daddy

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Matthew Heikkila

The Quinn Hanna Gray Kidnapping

Patricia Rorrer